By Paula Detwiller
Do you find yourself feeling anxious, sad, or hopeless because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
If so, you are not alone. In a recent poll, nearly half of adults in the U.S. reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the pandemic. Emotional distress can be especially acute in older adults who live alone or in congregate care facilities where public health orders keep them socially isolated. Isolation leads to loneliness, and loneliness often leads to depression. Add in the fact that more people over 60 die from coronavirus than any other age group, and it is understandable that older adults are struggling to keep fear, panic, and grief at bay.
In fact, behavioral health experts say our emotional reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic parallel the feelings we experience when our lives are upended by other types of disasters, such as wildfires, earthquakes, and floods. These reactions include:
- Having problems falling or staying asleep
- Experiencing more conflicts or tension with family members or other people
- Crying easily or becoming tearful for no apparent reason
- Having trouble concentrating or remembering things
- Experiencing an increase or decrease in your normal appetite
- Loss of interest in everyday activities
- Having a sense of despair, hopelessness, or emptiness about the future
- Drinking more alcoholic beverages
If you recognize any of these reactions in yourself, talking to someone about it can improve your outlook and well-being. That’s why a team of behavioral health professionals at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) created the “Stay Well” counseling line—a phone number you can call any time of the day or night to talk to a trained crisis counselor about your COVID-19-related distress.
To reach the Stay Well counseling line, dial 888-535-6136 and listen for the prompt to press “8.” Counseling is free and confidential. It is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
“Stay Well counselors help people understand their feelings and reactions during a disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic,” said psychiatrist Dr. Debra Pinals, MDHHS’ medical director for behavioral health. “They are taught to listen, not judge, and help callers develop coping strategies, review their options and connect with agencies that may help them. All of this can reduce callers’ stress and improve their ability to endure the realities they face.”
The Stay Well counseling line is being promoted statewide with a media campaign called “Be Kind to Your Mind.” You may see advertising on TV, radio, print and social media with a gentle reminder that there should be no shame or stigma associated with getting emotional support if the ongoing pandemic is getting you down.
Stay Well counseling is made possible by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The grant also supports brochures, videos, and other mental health resources available at www.Michigan.gov/StayWell.
Want to connect with other older adults in Michigan who may share similar feelings of loneliness, isolation, and distress because of the COVID-19 Pandemic? Join us for a support group, designed just for this! This group will meet the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month at 10am and is only for older adults. Register at www.michigan.gov/staywell. Not comfortable with technology? No problem! Call the Stay Well Line (1-888-535-6136 press 8) and a counselor will help you register!